Weisburd Wins Criminology’s Top Prize for His Policing Research

Posted: July 20, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: June 22, 2010 at 12:02 pm

By Jim Greif

David Weisburd. Creative Services photo

Distinguished Professor David Weisburd has been named the winner of the 2010 Stockholm Prize in Criminology for his research and findings that police patrols at crime “hot spots” do not merely move crime around the corner.

The Stockholm prize is widely considered the most prestigious in the field of criminology, and this is the first time the international committee has bestowed the award on a single individual. Winners receive 1 million Swedish kroner (about $130,000).

The award will be presented on June 15, 2010, during the annual international Stockholm Criminology Symposium.

A detailed look at Weisburd’s award-winning research follows.

David Weisburd brought with him a revolutionary way to understand and deal with crime when he joined Mason’s Administration of Justice Department last year.

David Weisburd discusses the importance of “location,
location, location” in crime fighting.

Traditional criminology focuses on understanding the characteristics and careers of criminals, but Weisburd has been an international leader in exploring the implications of where crime occurs and the “history” of high-crime places.

Looking at “crime in place” is a relatively new focus for criminologists, and studies on the subject first appeared in the late 1980s.

Weisburd’s research shows that focusing on where crime is concentrated enables police and communities to target their efforts more effectively.

Simply steering clear of “the bad side of town” may not help citizens avoid crime.

“Research has shown that in what are generally seen as good parts of town there are often streets with strong crime concentrations, and in what are often defined as bad neighborhoods, many places are relatively free of crime,” Weisburd says.

While police have generally organized their patrols by neighborhoods or precincts that span several city blocks, a “hot spot” — a small area of concentrated crime — can be a single street segment, a cluster of addresses or even a single building.

For example, in a study conducted in 2004, Weisburd and his colleagues found that 86 out of 29,849 street segments account for one-third of the total number of juvenile crime incidents in Seattle.

crimemapslide2While targeting crime at the places where it occurs seems like a simple shift in strategy, it requires drastic changes in data gathering and the overall philosophy and actions of the police.

The strategies of place-based policing can be as simple as patrolling hot spots, but could also include changes in laws and techniques. For example, policy-makers might use “nuisance laws” to encourage landlords and property owners to aid the police in dealing with crime that occurs in or around their buildings.

“Hot spots provide a stable target for police interventions, unlike the constantly moving targets of criminal offenders,” Weisburd says.

If police intervene at a hot spot, many citizens and even police officers believe that the criminal activity will simply move around the corner. Weisburd’s research suggests the opposite is true. A study from Weisburd and his colleagues in 2004 found that areas close to the hot spot receiving intervention actually showed a reduction in crime despite the fact that these areas were not the focus.

The Consummate Police Chief’s Researcher

A leading expert on crime in places, policing terrorism and white-collar crime, Weisburd is well respected by police chiefs and high-ranking law enforcement officials around the world who have implemented his forward-thinking strategies toward policing.

“David is the consummate police chief’s researcher. He understands the political issues involved in policing and is a dream to work with,” says Jim Bueermann, chief of the Redlands Police Department in California.

Weisburd led two experimental studies with Bueermann’s police department, the “Risk-Focused Policing at Places Experiment” and the “Second Responder Experiment.”

Bueermann says Weisburd understands that it is important to put the community first.

“David conducts his research in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the community on the behalf of research. He understands the practical realities of keeping the community safe.”

Using Weisburd’s research results and policing strategies, Bueermann helped his department alter and discontinue ineffective practices and implement new strategies that are proven to work.

Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy

Before arriving at Mason last year, Weisburd had previously collaborated with many of its administration of justice faculty members, including Cynthia Lum, who studied under Weisburd at the University of Maryland before she joined Mason.

Weisburd is also active in his profession outside the university, sitting on a number of national steering committees and participating in working groups. He is a member of the Committee on Crime, Law and Justice of the National Research Council and served on the NRC working group on evaluating anticrime programs and its panel on police practices and policies.

The distinguished criminologist has received more than $12 million in private and public research funds during his career.

He is also the founding editor of the Journal of Experimental Criminology and serves on many journal editorial boards in criminology.

Weisburd holds a joint appointment as the Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law and Criminal Justice and director of the Institute of Criminology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.

At Mason, Weisburd serves as the director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, and Lum is deputy director.

Over the last year, the center has hosted congressional briefings on the role that location plays in crime and counterterrorism research, and professors affiliated with the center presented at Sen. Jim Webb’s symposium on drug trafficking, policy and sentencing that took place at Mason.

The center is planning a congressional briefing in October related to major criminal justice issues.

Current research topics at the center include the geography of crime and criminal justice, re-entry centers in the federal justice system and evidence-based practices in correction facilities. In addition, the center’s Crime and Place Working Group has created a comprehensive bibliography of crime in place literature and research.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu